In the Doctor Who series 5 episode "Vincent and the Doctor", the Doctor encounters impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh. Throughout the episode, the Doctor, Amy Pond, museum staff, and others pronounce the man's surname as "van Goff", as can be seen in the clip below:

However, his Wikipedia page's audio pronunciation pronounces it differently as "vahn Goe" with a bit of a guttural at the end. Why did this episode pronounce the man's name so differently than the way it was actually pronounced?

For what it's worth, as an American, I'd always heard it pronounced as "van Go" (no guttural), so hearing "van Goff" throughout the episode was really jarring.


3 Answers 3


It's a common mistake. Brits often pronounce it as Goff and Americans often pronounce it as Go. The BBC, home of Dr. Who, even commented on it and included the correct enunciation:

But what is the real pronunciation of Van Gogh? Native English speakers can be heard saying van GOFF (-v as in vet, -a as in pan, -g as in get, -f as in fit) or van GOH (-oh as in no).

In fact, most Dutch people pronounce his surname along the lines of vun KHOKH (-v as in vet, -u as in bun, -kh as in Scottish loch) or fun KHOKH (-f as in fit, -u as in bun, -kh as in Scottish loch). [...]

At the Pronunciation Unit, we don't expect non-native Dutch speakers to pronounce his name with a perfect Dutch accent. Instead, we recommend the established Anglicisation van GOKH (-v as in vet, -g as in get, -kh as in Scottish loch) which is codified in numerous British English pronunciation dictionaries.

  • 8
    fun KHOKH, you say? Bet he was popular with the ladies ;)
    – Steve-O
    Commented Dec 17, 2016 at 1:55
  • the "a" in "van" sounds more like the "a" in "lance" or "dance" if you have a proper British accent. Commented Dec 17, 2016 at 15:21
  • I propose it's not a mistake, it's actually intentional! Based on the show's expanded history!
    – cde
    Commented Dec 17, 2016 at 18:09

Doctor Who provides the typical mistaken pronunciation of Van Gogh common in British English.

Wiki provides the native pronunciation of the name in Gogh's native language, Dutch. Which is not English in nature, the two languages being descendants of two different West German linguistic roots.

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But since they are speaking English through alien technology...

Tardis Translation circuit:

Real pronunciation aside, notice that the Doctor corrected Amy when she was going to say she's not from Holland (she's Scottish).

VINCENT: That accent of yours. You from Holland like me?
AMY: No.
DOCTOR: She means yes. So, start again. Hello, I'm the Doctor.

We hear them pronounce it in the English manner with a SCOTTISH ACCENT because of alien technology translating their translated Dutch-accented French to English for us.

To Clarify the accents:

They are in Arles, France, at the Cafe de l'Alcazar at the Place du Forum (Public Forum/Square). Van Gogh is speaking French, but has a Dutch Accent as he is a native Dutch Speaker. Amy is speaking English, but with a Scottish Accent, since she is from Scotland. There 11th Doctor has a standard "accentless" English accent, Received Pronunciation. The Tardis is translating Amy's accented English to Dutch-accented French for Vincent, and the Doctor's standard English to standard French. On the flip side, Vincent's Dutch-accented French is being translated to Scottish-accented English for Amy AND US. This is why Vincent thinks Amy is from Holland like him, and why Vincent Van Gogh sounds SCOTTISH to the audience.

Same as Donna speaking Latin is ruined to sound Celtic, I mean Welsh, to a native Latin speaker, a Roman street vender, because of the translation matrix not working in those situations.

DONNA: Hold on a minute. That sign over there's in English.
(Painted on the side of a barrow is two amphorae for the price of one.)
DONNA: Are you having me on? Are we in Epcot?
DOCTOR: No, no, no, no. That's the Tardis translation circuits. Just makes it look like English. Speech as well. You're talking Latin right now.
DONNA: Seriously?
DONNA: I just said seriously in Latin.
DOCTOR: Oh, yeah.
DONNA: What if I said something in actual Latin, like veni, vidi, vici? My dad said that when he came back from football. If I said veni, vidi, vici to that lot, what would it sound like?
DOCTOR: I'm not sure. You have to think of difficult questions, don't you?
DONNA: I'm going to try it.
(Donna goes to a fruit seller.)
STALLHOLDER: Afternoon, sweetheart. What can I get you, my love?
DONNA: Er, veni, vidi, vici.
STALLHOLDER: Huh? Sorry? Me no speak Celtic. No can do, missy.

DONNA: Yeah.
(She walks away.)
DONNA: How's he mean, Celtic?
DOCTOR: Welsh. You sound Welsh. There we are. Learnt something.

  • 3
    Dutch actually is a germanic language.
    – Random832
    Commented Dec 17, 2016 at 6:17
  • Does that mean that in-universe the characters pronounce the name correctly, but the Tardis changes it, or are they pronouncing it wrong and the Tardis doesn't bother to correct it? - E.g. at the end of the episode, when the museum curator (Bill Nighy) says "Goff", does Vincent hear his name pronounced correctly, or does he hear "Goff" as well? One would think that the curator knows how to pronounce "Gogh" correctly.
    – Oliver_C
    Commented Dec 17, 2016 at 19:03
  • 1
    @Oliver_C The Musée d'Orsay is a museum in Paris, France, so obviously its being pronounced the french way, then translated to British English. youtube.com/watch?v=qIDsGNSal8c
    – cde
    Commented Dec 17, 2016 at 19:44
  • @Oliver_C which means the Tardis also translates Francs/Euro into Pounds :)
    – cde
    Commented Dec 17, 2016 at 19:47
  • In the Clip you embedded we do hear "vici" pronounced "vitschi", not "visi", and when the doctor says "Musée" he does pronounce the "-sée" like "say" and not "see". - So, if the characters pronounce "van Gogh" correctly, there would no reason for the Tardis to change it, and when the say it wrong to begin with, then one can't really blame the Tardis.
    – Oliver_C
    Commented Dec 18, 2016 at 11:34

Actually, it's more complicated than "ask a Dutchman". Your Dutchman will speak Dutch with a modern accent, but Vincent lived in the late 1800s and didn't speak the way modern Dutch people speak (heck, listen to recordings made even in the 1950s and they're clearly not modern accents). How it's pronounced in modern Dutch isn't really relevant if you want to know how Vincent himself pronounced it. According to QI, when van Gogh lived in London he wrote his name in a church register as "van Goff", that presumably being a better approximation of pronunciation of his name at that time in his dialect than the modern standard Dutch guttural sound.

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